Alphabet: P (Polaroids)

The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self).

It’s June, 1997, and I’m spending the summer before my senior year of college in Springfield, Missouri, working at the school library. My roommate has gone home for the summer and subleased her room to another friend of ours, but she comes back for her birthday and we throw a little party to celebrate. There’s this guy I know from the theater circle, Chad, who comes to the party. He has purple hair and a dancing bear tattoo on his calf and he makes the girls swoon even though we’re all pretty sure he’s gay. Chad comes to the party and he and I decide to go for a walk and we talk about everything and nothing and eventually watch the sun come up.

For the next couple of months, I spend every night with Chad. He’s doing summer stock theater and his shows end around 10, the same time my shift at the library is over. I usually go straight to his apartment from work, where we hang out in his sun room listening to Shawn Colvin and re-arranging his furniture ’til four in the morning. Sometimes we lie on his bedroom floor listening to “Polaroids” on repeat over and over. It’s still a couple of years before we both fall in love with Lucinda Williams and go to a bunch of her shows together and learn all the words to all her songs and sometimes just text random lines to each other in the middle of the afternoon for no reason at all.

In July my grandmother dies and my parents buy me a car with part of their inheritance. The first place I drive it to is Chad’s apartment and when he comes out to see it, I lie across the hood, propping my chin on my hand like some cheesy calendar model, and giggle. We take the car for a ride down Cherry street, out into the country, with the windows down, the breeze whipping through our hair. Afterward, we go for a walk in a big parking garage near his apartment and act out scenes as made-up characters, cracking each other up for hours. Sometimes, when we’re feeling daring, we climb over the hotel fence down the street and jump into their pool. We jump in the fountain on campus, too — the one right outside the library — late at night, when nobody else is around.

A couple years later, after Chad has moved to Chicago and I’m still in Missouri, he’ll send me a postcard that says, “Summer makes me think of you.” Years after that, after I’ve moved again from Chicago to New York, he’ll text me: “I miss you most in the summer.”

It’s not that we aren’t friends the rest of the year; of course we are. But if tasting a BLT is like coming home for a country-turned-city boy, that’s what summer is for us. After many seasons hanging out at Foster Beach and riding our bikes along the lake and killing hours on Chad’s deck, listening to Lucinda and drinking wine and gossiping about whomever we know, summer just feels like home.

And now it’s summer 2012. We’ve been friends for over 15 years. That car my parents bought me is long gone. Boyfriends — both his and mine — have come and gone. There have been jobs and multiple degrees and tons of apartments and different pets and many drunken karaoke nights and lots of friends and lots of travels and a cross-country move and many more characters and a marriage and a baby (me) and lots and lots of gray hair (him) and more birthdays than we’d like to think about. And in just a few days Chad will be 40.

The purple hair is gone and the dancing bear was covered up years ago, but in my mind I still see that 24-year-old kid he was when we met. And summer’s when I miss him most.


  1. I miss my purple hair. Stupid growing up and pretending to be responsible!!

  2. What a lovely tribute to a best friend.

  3. LolaBeans says:

    awww what a nice tribute to a friend!!

    Happy 40th, Chad!

  4. Moneypenny says:

    This is really lovely! Chad sounds like a fantastic friend. I can practically visualize in my head your memories as I’m reading this.

  5. Avatar photo landygirl says:

    What a nice tribute. Kudos on loving Shawn Colvin too. “Fat City” is one of my favorite albums.

  6. Sue Jones says:

    Awwwwww! I had 2 “gay best friends” when I was in high school. And one in college….we all have really drifted apart, sadly, because Facebook didn’t exist 30+ years ago… but they are the BEST!!!! I wish I had one now! Where can I get one? Should I advertise? 50 year old middle aged (but still hot) mountain girl married with a kid seeks a GMBFF (gay male best friend forever) to enjoy music, laughter, hanging out (though I have no time to “hang out”) and delicious gossip for the infrequent times that she actually has time to hang out with her friends… Oh that would NEVER work!

  7. This is lovely, Wendy.

  8. kerrycontrary says:

    I love the memories of summer in college. After a horrible summer after my freshman year in college where my parents tried to enforce a curfew, I spent the rest of the summers away studying abroad and working in the library at college (Like Wendy!!). I always had a different group of friends during that time because it depended upon who stuck around campus during the summer.

  9. very lovely Wendy! makes me miss my own friends who are far away.

  10. Addie Pray says:

    That is lovely! And be very jealous, DW readers: I’VE MET THE CHAD! Happy birthday!

  11. SweetPeaG says:

    You kill me, Wendy.

    1. SweetPeaG says:

      Meaning, that was really good.

  12. That was so beautiful… I wish you both many more years of friendship, and a Happy Birthday to Chad!

    I really can’t think of many things that are better than the summers in your early 20s… I had so much fun, and so little responsibility then… They were glorious. Those of you who are still in college, or just out of school without a “real” job yet, please enjoy this time!! Day drink and take adventures as much as you can, you won’t regret it.

  13. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

    This story makes me want to be friends with you. I love when people cherish friends and have long term friendships. My mom is really good at it. She has really good friends from every place she has ever lived and I think it’s a true testament to how awesome she is.

  14. bittergaymark says:

    I sincerely deeply regret never dying my hair some truly outrageous color…

  15. I love these vignettes Wendy, thank you for sharing!

  16. Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! says:

    I love these posts so much. They’re so touching and written from the heart 🙂

  17. I recently discovered Lucinda Williams – I’m falling in love with her too!!!!

  18. Well. Now I’m crying. Love these so much.

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